As PA to two Radley Wardens and now the Administrator in the Partnerships team, Sarah Sheldon has seen the College from many aspects in her 12 years here. I sat down with Sarah to find out more about what brought her to Radley.
I’ve worked in quite a lot of different fields over the years but coming from a family of teachers it’s perhaps unsurprising that I’ve ended up working in education.
In my early career I worked in insurance and then had a break to bring up my three children. When the children were small I started a small catering company with a friend and then worked as a practice manager in a doctor’s surgery in Marlow. I worked for Oxford University for a while, both at St Anthony’s College and the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and also as PA to the Head at Magdalen College School. One of my favourite jobs was working as an account manager in a PR firm for clients like the National Trust, Bristol Zoo and Tourism South East. After that I became the Head’s PA at Summer Fields School in Summertown.
I’d been at Summer Fields for four years when the Radley job came up. I came to a deserted campus in August to meet Angus (McPhail, former Warden) who had flown down from Scotland for the A-Level results. We met in his study in Mansion and got on well — we had a long chat which didn’t feel like an interview at all! By the time I’d walked back to the Bursary to find Sarah Ballard I’d been offered the job and I started in October 2011. I hadn’t been here long before I realised this might be the place for me and somewhere I would be happy to stay, and in fact this is the longest I’ve ever worked in one place.
What has changed since you arrived at Radley?
After three years working for Angus, John Moule took over as Warden in September 2014 and of course brought in many changes. At the beginning when he was getting to know the school there were a lot of dinners and drinks with staff and parents to organise. I got to know many of the operational teams in the College through this which was great.
There were a lot fewer administrative staff then — I worked with the Admissions team, but it was tiny, just Vanessa Hammond, Anne Blagrove and Tash Cooper. And everything was of course very paper-based. I inherited hundreds of boxes of cards, one per boy, and at the end of every term I would have the boys’ reports to stuff into envelopes with various letters. They all needed to be colour coordinated and collated to ensure the right papers went in the right envelope.
I loved meeting boys coming for their interview, seeing them join the school as Shells and then being given positions of leadership in the College when they reached 6.2.
Tell us about how your change of role came about?
It was during the Covid period that I became more aware of the Partnership work John Sparks was doing — it was all hands on deck during that time and I did some work for John then.
Covid was the catalyst to me thinking about my job. I really enjoyed so many aspects of it, but it was a pressured role with lots of deadlines to juggle. I knew I didn’t want to leave the College so when the Partnerships role came up it was perfect. Working for the Warden I had to keep confidences and keep a lot of things to myself, so I find I am now relishing working as part of a team.
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
It takes me outside Radley, doing all sorts of different and interesting things. I enjoy meeting the boys, driving them to their partnership activities and chatting to them. They have great, innovative ideas and it’s really satisfying for me to get involved in the different strands of partnerships projects from their conception to making them happen.
There’s a lot to do – for example, the logistics of getting 160 boys to their partnership activities on a Wednesday afternoon! It’s still admin-led but it’s quite different to my previous role, albeit working with another John!
What makes Radley a special place to work?
When I show visitors around Radley I feel very proud to work here and to explain why and how we work in partnership with other organisations and the ways in which staff and boys are involved in working with the community on so many ventures.
What would we find you doing away from work?
I sing in the College Choral Society and Woodstock Music Society, and I’ve always been sporty, ever since I was a toddler playing tennis! Hockey was my sport growing up. I’m a member of the golf club here and the gym, I love the FIT classes and yoga classes with Hazel Gearing.
What does Radley mean to you?
I feel a real sense of belonging at Radley which is lovely. It’s a beautiful place to work and I never take it for granted. I love walking around the grounds and I see something new every time. The people here are so helpful and make such an effort, they’re kind and polite and highly skilled – a real joy to work with.